Could you explain the use of the preposition ''de'' in this sentence?

Hablo un poco de español

Does it indicate possession?

  • 1
    In English, "I speak a bit of Spanish" contains the word "of" performing the same function as "de". – Juan Lanus Mar 6 '16 at 12:32

"Un poco" as an adjective is used to indicate a small amount of a noun which is not countable (for example, the noun "Spanish", as you cannot have 5 or 6 "Spanish"). Here is the entry in the RAE dictionary:

loc. adj. Con nombres no contables, denota cantidad pequeña. U. seguido de la preposición de.

This means in English:

With uncountable nouns, it denotes small quantity. Used followed by the preposition "de".

So, whenever you want to indicate a small amount of an uncountable noun, you use the phrase "un poco de" as the adjective.

You can also use the adjective "poco/poca" directly with uncountable nouns, but this carries the connotation of being not only small but also insufficient.


I am still a beginner in Spanish, but based of my general linguistic knowledge I believe it's a nice example of partitive.

partitive is a word, phrase, or case that indicates partialness

As you probably correctly determined, de in Spanish indicates the genitive.

Depending on the language, specific varieties of genitive-noun–main-noun relationships may include:

  • possession
  • composition (see Partitive)
  • participation in an action
  • origin
  • reference
  • description
  • compounds
  • apposition

Possession is only one of many possible concept expressed by genitive. In the case of un poco de the genitive is used to express the partitive, not the possession.

For better understanding of what possessive is, you may read the following summary.

Roman languages, such as French and Spanish, feel more urge to use partitive in places where it is not required in English. E.g. in French you cannot say "I want water", you have to say (word-by-word translation) "I want of water". In Finnish they use partitive even for marking tank trucks with water vettä ("of water") instead of vesi ("water").

They explain it by stating that "you cannot have all the water in the universe", you can have only a small portion of water.

The partitive is expressed by

  1. the genitive case
    1. with preposition (of in English, de in Spanish)
    2. special word ending for languages with declination
  2. the special partitive case (Finnish, Estonian)

Spanish is not a language with the special partitive case and they express the partitive concept by using genitive. So some usages of de are the expressions of the partitive genitive.

See also Is the phrase "un poco de" an example of partitive?.

  • Your definition of a partitive is correct, but partitives in Spanish don't exist the way they do in other Romance languages such as Italian or French. To say "I want water" in Spanish you don't say "Quiero de agua", but just "Quiero agua", even though you say "Je veux de l'eau" in French and "Voglio dell'acqua" in Italian. – Yay Dec 18 '15 at 10:34
  • @Yay: I am aware of it, I know that Spanish does not use partitive in this particular case. However, I think that Spanish use partitive more often than English and that Hablo un poco de español is an example of it. You might not particularly call it partitive (at least not in the common high school grammar classes), but it is the concept of partitive. – Honza Zidek Dec 18 '15 at 14:23
  • By my examples I wanted to give better understanding of partitive to the OP who probably is not familiar with such "overuse" of genitive which it might look to speakers in other languages. I am not sure what you mean that the "word cannot create a partitive all by itself, but only in conjunction with another words, while in French it can". I think that partitive is formed exactly in the same way in Spanish as in French, simply by the common means of forming genitive (expressed by de in both the languages), only Spanish does not use partitive in so many cases as French does. – Honza Zidek Dec 18 '15 at 15:04
  • Well, I just found it misleading to compare it to French: the question asked explicitly about the word 'de', and such word cannot create a partitive all by itself but only in conjunction with another words, while in French it can. However, I don't think partitives are more common in Spanish: you can say "Hablo español", that's grammatically correct; "un poco de" adds a different nuance, the same way "I speak a little Spanish" does. But I grant the concept of partitive is there, I just thought that since you said you were a begginner, you thought 'de' was used in Spanish just like French 'de'. – Yay Dec 18 '15 at 15:14
  • What do you mean by "such word cannot create a partitive all by itself but only in conjunction with another words, while in French it can"? – Honza Zidek Dec 18 '15 at 15:19

"Un poco de" is a locución determinativa. A locución in Spanish is, according to the RAE:

"En gramática se llama locución a una combinación fija de palabras que funciona como una determinada clase (locución nominal, adjetiva, verbal, etc.) y cuyo significado no es la suma del que tienen sus componentes por separado".

Rough translation: In grammar, a locución is a fixed combination of words that works as a specific class, whose meaning isn't the sum of the those of their separate components.

"Un poco de" is a locución determinativa because it determines the quantity of Spanish you can speak. As quoted, the words that form a locution cannot be separated without them losing their original meaning, so instead of reading it word by word, the whole expression should be considered as a cluster of words whose meaning is equivalent to English "some".

Lastly, that "de" is comparable to "of" in "a little bit of" or "a lot of". So, the only difference between this post and the previous ones is that I'd say that the function of "Un poco de" is that of a determinante rather than an adjetivo.


No, it does not indicate possession. "De" is used to indicate possession only for nouns (physical things).

For example:

El auto de Miguel

Miguel actually has a car, so "de" is used as possession there. But you can't have "un poco de español" because it's something that doesn't physically exist.

In your case "un poco de" is an entire expression, which express quantity. I don't speak too much Spanish, just a bit. "Un poco de ..."

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